Biotech mosquitos have made news over the last couple of years as they fought to control Zika, Dengue and Yellow Fever. Agriculture is hoping to use the technology in the constant battle with pests that cause billions of dollars a year in crop damage. I’m told the process is as simple as flipping a genetic switch which then turns the sex drive of the insect against itself. At the forefront of the project is a group of researchers from Cornell University, who are using biotechnology to place the GE crosshairs on a remarkably adaptable crop pest: the diamondback moth (DBM). The DBM not only destroys nearly $5 billion in damage to broccoli, cabbage, canola, cauliflower and more, but they have the remarkable ability to develop resistance to insecticides (sometimes within two years) by reproducing a generation within a few weeks in the field. Cornell researchers are using technology developed by Oxitec to target the DBM and it’s worth noting that they have gained public notice through their release of GE male mosquitoes in Brazil and other countries. The releases of Oxitec’s self-limiting mosquitoes have resulted in the reduction of the wild population by more than 90% – an unparalleled level of control. OX513A has also demonstrated the ability to provide a stable performance for over 150 generations. Meaning, there have been no new strains of resistant mosquitos that have overcome the genetic process. As I understand it, through biotech engineering, all female offspring die as a result of a self-limiting gene. With the continued release of male moths over a sustained period, the number of females in the population drops and the capacity of the population to sustain itself is diminished. If you are wondering how we continue to produce the insects if they die – there’s an antidote given to the insects in the rearing facility that acts like a switch to turn off the tTAV gene preventing the tTAV protein from working. In 2015, trials were completed using GE DBM proving the technology was effective and the trial also restored susceptibility to Bt. With most of the industries focus on the development of GE crop resistance to pests, this approach could provide a new and hopefully less expensive tool in the future. (Source: Cornell University)
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